Jennifer Barclay: Author Profile

by Jeremy Bassetti
Jennifer Barclay Author

Jennifer Barclay stops by Travel Writing World to answer a few questions about her career as a writer. She is the author of The Taverna by the Sea: One Greek Island Summer (Bradt 2022). You can find out more about her and her work on her website.

How did you first become interested in writing travel books?

I think my parents encouraged me to write on family holidays in Europe when I was young, and travelling always inspired me. I read a lot of literary travel books after I started travelling alone and living abroad: Freya Stark, Jonathan Raban. It was an exciting and engaging way of learning about the world, and it gradually became my favourite genre. I didn’t really consider writing a travel book myself for a long time.

How did you manage to get your first travel book published?

My first real job was working for a literary agency in my early twenties when living in Canada, so I learned a lot about the development of books from ideas to finished manuscripts, and read some amazingly beautiful prose. I quit that job to go travelling and ended up in South Korea for several months in the year 2000. Back in Canada, a friend and I pitched an idea for an anthology of travel stories called AWOL to publishers and while we worked on that I got a job for a small adventure tour company and started writing up and polishing my own travel stories; a few got published in newspapers and an anthology, and I also reviewed travel books for a newspaper. I continued with writing and freelance editing while living in France, then returned to the UK and got a job as commissioning editor and then editorial director for a publishing company with a very strong travel writing list. At last I learned from reading and editing other people’s books how to complete my own, which became Meeting Mr Kim

What is your writing process like, both on the road and at home? And how long does it take you to write a book inclusive of the research, travel, writing, and editing phases?

Being on the road inspires me to write, and I hand-write notes in notebooks or on whatever bit of paper I have to hand. Occasionally as I’m experiencing something I just know it will make a good story – it practically writes itself. Other times I just write descriptions or snippets of dialogue or thoughts passing through my head or whatever seems interesting. Some things just stay in the notebooks, or become blog posts, but when I have an idea for a book I start typing notes up, sifting through, shaping them and where necessary doing research. I revise manuscripts over and over again, let them sit for a while and come back to them to see them afresh. Most of my books have taken a few years to evolve. I can’t do writing for a couple of hours and then my day job – I have to allocate weeks and months at a time to writing and immerse myself. And when I’m working with an editor on a final manuscript, I’m so immersed that ideas come to me while I’m sleeping and I have to get up and write them down.

What books or authors influence or inform your own work?

Because I still edit (and occasionally sell) travel books and other narrative non-fiction as my day job, I’m constantly reading new manuscripts by mostly unknown authors, which I find helpful as I’m always looking at how other writers do things and getting ideas. I read widely, and whatever I’m currently reading informs my own work in some way. When Amy Logan and I put together AWOL: Tales for Travel-Inspired Minds all those years ago, we commissioned pieces from poets and novelists and non-fiction writers – travel writing can be writing in whatever shape or form inspired by places or journeys.

What advice would you give to someone interested in writing a travel book?

Read, of course: and not just the household names and bestsellers. Read travel books by people you’ve not heard of before. I’m a bit cynical about the publishing world, having worked in it for years. But do find out what else has been written about the same topic, and make sure you’re doing something different. The same rules apply as to any book: make sure you hook the reader from the first line; cut out the boring stuff; think about what you can offer the reader that’s unusual and interesting; don’t just write up your holiday diary or piece together blog posts but craft a story. Show how the travel changed you, or why it’s a story worth telling, or what message the reader will take away. And of course: make sure you have unusual experiences.

What is so appealing about the travel book as a literary form?

A good travel book takes you on an exciting, fascinating journey. And it’s different every time. 

Why write about travel?

It’s about life and the world, in all its wondrous diversity. And writing about it enables you to keep doing it, and makes you take notice. And it gives you an excuse to do things a person might not normally do. I think I have an interesting life.

Jennifer Barclay stops by Travel Writing World to answer a few questions about her career as a writer. She is the author of The Taverna by the Sea: One Greek Island Summer (Bradt 2022). You can find out more about her and her work on her website.

If you enjoyed this interview with Jennifer Barclay, you might enjoy our other author profiles for more behind-the-scenes interviews with authors of travel books.

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